News of the Church

By Richard M. Romney, Church Magazines


Polynesian Cultural Center Celebrates 40 Years of Aloha

Two numbers have big significance for the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) this year. One is 40. On 12 October the center, located in Laie, Hawaii, will celebrate its 40th anniversary. The other number is 30 million. On 25 April 2003, the 30 millionth visitor walked through the center’s entrance.

“Of course the surprise and hoopla of being the 30 millionth visitor was incredible,” wrote Dianna Cheri Hill of Woodland, California, in a thank-you letter to the center. “But the beauty and authenticity and genuine camaraderie that ensued throughout that day were the most memorable of all. We truly felt like we had met the ‘real’ people of Polynesia.”

That is the spirit of aloha that makes the Church-owned center a must-see attraction. Located adjacent to Brigham Young University—Hawaii, the PCC is a 42-acre (17-hectare) refuge of tropical foliage and flowers where canoes glide along a freshwater lagoon and friendly islanders in scenic villages share the customs and cultures of Pacific island nations. Guests see demonstrations of islanders climbing a palm tree, throwing spears, starting a fire with a coconut husk, hosting traditional welcoming ceremonies, and much more. In the evening, visitors can join in an authentic luau, then attend the largest Polynesian revue in the world—a staged spectacular featuring more than 100 dancers.

Some 760 of the 1,200 center employees are students at BYU—Hawaii, working 20 hours a week to help finance their studies. The university has a total student body of around 2,400 from more than 70 nations, with half of the students coming from the Pacific Basin. Many could not afford tuition and expenses without their work at the PCC.

“The center is an extraordinary extension of our campus,” says BYU—Hawaii president Eric B. Shumway. “We’re joined at the heart.”

What visitors to the PCC may not realize is that all of these facilities, as well as the neighboring community of Laie, are fulfilling a prophecy made in 1955 by President David O. McKay, ninth President of the Church. In the dedicatory prayer at the groundbreaking ceremony for what was then called the Church College of Hawaii, President McKay asked the Lord that the college, the temple, and the town would become “a missionary factor, influencing not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of people who will come seeking to know what this town and its significance are.”

When the cultural center opened in 1963, tourism experts in Honolulu were skeptical that anyone would travel to the north side of Oahu just to see students perform. But over time the center gained a positive reputation. The PCC has been the number-one paid attraction in Hawaii every year since 1977, with the highest guest satisfaction ratings of any paid attraction, according to the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

“The spirit of aloha, the spirit of love and welcome, is legendary in Hawaii,” says PCC president Von D. Orgill. “Every person who comes here feels it. But at the center they also feel something more. The students who work here begin their day by sharing scriptures and spiritual thoughts. They pray together and ask that the Lord’s Spirit will shine through their lives and touch people, and it does.”

Iolani Mariteragi, a student and performer from French Polynesia, agrees: “When visitors come through the center, they ask, ‘How can you all be so happy?’ I tell them it’s because we live according to the gospel.”

That spiritual preparation is reflected in another interesting fact: the visitors’ center of the nearby Laie Hawaii Temple is second only to Temple Square in Salt Lake City in the number of non–Latter-day Saints taking guided tours and the number of referrals coming from those tours.

President McKay also described how students from BYU—Hawaii would become an influence for international peace, building bridges between nations. That statement is also coming true. As one example, the Polynesian Cultural Center has become the primary contact with the government of the People’s Republic of China for the Asian Executive Management Training Program, a joint effort of BYU—Hawaii and the PCC. Participants work 20 hours per week at the PCC, rotating through various departments to understand how an American business operates. They also receive training at BYU—Hawaii. Since the program started in 1985, there have been 138 participants who have gone on to positions of international responsibility and influence.

What is more, it is commonplace for the PCC to host dignitaries not only from China but also from 50 to 75 other countries each year. The reach of the PCC and BYU—Hawaii is remarkable. “It’s impressive when you think about it,” says President Orgill. “Here is this little tiny town on this little island in the middle of this gigantic ocean, and it is exercising an influence around the world that is incredible.”

A monthlong celebration is planned for the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 40th anniversary in October, and considerable renovation has been completed. Plans are also underway to commemorate the 50th anniversary of BYU—Hawaii in February 2005.

For more information about the Polynesian Cultural Center, visit www.polynesia.com; for more information about BYU—Hawaii, visit www.byuh.edu.

[photo] In a canoe pageant, performers represent the King of Hawaii and his entourage, welcoming guests to the Polynesian Cultural Center. The center celebrates its 40th anniversary this month. (Photograph by Richard M. Romney.)

Choir Carries Audiences on a “Cloud of Sound”

A reviewer for the Grand Rapids Press in Michigan summed it up in one word: awesome. “There’s no other way to describe the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s performance,” wrote Jeff Kaczmarczyk of the choir’s first performance on its summer tour. The accolades only continued as the 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir and 25-member ensemble from the Orchestra at Temple Square performed 11 concerts in 18 days across 3,000 miles in June and July.

But ask any participant and they’ll tell you the tour throughout the northeastern United States wasn’t about those exhausting stats or even the rave reviews—it was about the individual lives that were touched by the Spirit.

“At the end of the concert, people just kept standing there. They wanted to stay there and feel that resonance, almost a reverence for what happened to them,” author Heidi Swinton, who is writing a documentary about the choir, told the Church News.

Singing hymns of praise, selections from the masters, folk music, and patriotic songs, the Tabernacle Choir entertained nearly one million people in live audiences from 24 June to 11 July 2003.

“Exhilarating, exhausting, exuberant, and extraordinary” are the words used by Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Craig Jessop to describe the tour. “In my professional life, it was probably the finest tour I’ve ever been on, truly. We had the finest venues and the finest audiences.”

In addition to live performances, the choir performed on two network television programs: NBC’s Today show in New York City and the CBS coverage of the Fourth of July Concert with the Boston Pops.

It was the first time that the Boston Pops and Mormon Tabernacle Choir have performed together. “If the Boston Pops is America’s Symphony, then the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is America’s Choir,” said Pops conductor Keith Lockhart in his opening comments at the packed Boston Esplanade by the Charles River.

The tour also launched a yearlong commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Music and the Spoken Word, the longest continuously running network broadcast. The weekly 30-minute program of music and inspirational commentary first aired on 15 July 1929 and today is broadcast on more than 2,000 radio, television, cable, and satellite stations worldwide.

Wherever the choir performed, a trail of compliments followed. World-renowned conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos had an opportunity to conduct the choir at its concert at Tanglewood—the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a premiere venue for music festivals. When asked what it was like to direct the choir, Mr. de Burgos exclaimed, “Glorious! Absolutely glorious! You don’t need any other word to describe it.”

One of America’s most respected broadcasters, Charles Osgood, expressed similar sentiments after sharing the stage with the choir in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center on 2 July.

“It’s one of the world’s greatest choirs,” said Mr. Osgood. “I felt as though I was carried on a cloud of sound.”

Church News contributed to this report.

[photo] The Tabernacle Choir performs for a full house at Wolf Trap in Washington, D.C. (Photograph by Craig Dimond.)

[photo] Singing for a nationwide broadcast, the Tabernacle Choir joined the Boston Pops to celebrate the Fourth of July. (Photograph by Craig Dimond.)

Saints Celebrate Pioneer Day

Starting off a weeklong celebration commemorating the 156th anniversary of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley, President James E. Faust reminded Saints of the faith, courage, and spiritual strength demonstrated by the pioneers and those who live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

President Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, spoke to thousands gathered at the Conference Center and more via broadcast satellite on 20 July for the annual Pioneer Day devotional.

President Faust’s remarks came at the conclusion of a musical tribute to early LDS pioneers by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square.

“In the spirit of the pioneers, together we welcome and embrace one another in the community of Saints to which we all belong,” President Faust said. “We go forward with our lives in devotion, loyalty, and integrity,” building on the foundation laid by the pioneers, but calling on “a different kind of spiritual strength to resist the sometimes overpowering influences of our time.”

On Pioneer Day—the 24th of July—Elder Merrill C. Oaks, a member of the Seventy and Second Counselor in the Utah North Area Presidency, addressed more than 1,000 people gathered in the Tabernacle on Temple Square for an early morning service to pay homage to the Saints’ pioneer forefathers.

“May those today—who are the beneficiaries of the pioneers’ courage and sacrifice—hold in remembrance not only the great individuals who gave so much, but also the principles and cause for which they sacrificed,” said Elder Oaks.

Later that day, unseasonably hot temperatures didn’t keep parade-goers from lining the streets in downtown Salt Lake City to view the 120 floats and entries depicting the theme “Utah! For the Pioneer in All of Us” in the annual Days of ’47 Parade. President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Frances, made an appearance in the parade.

Other events celebrating pioneers included the Days of ’47 Youth Parade, where some 5,000 children and youth gathered on 19 July to walk with brightly decorated floats, some of which observed the 125th anniversary of the Primary organization.

Pioneer celebrations also took place in other corners of the world. More than 100 members of the Vaiola Ward, Savaii Samoa Stake, on the island of Savaii in Samoa held a pioneer trek reenactment complete with six covered wagons.

In Moscow, Russia, cooks at the hotel where Utah athletes were staying for the Moscow Utah Youth Games presented the athletes with three large cakes on Pioneer Day.

Church News contributed to this report.

[photo] President Thomas S. Monson, accompanied by his wife, Frances, waves to crowds gathered for the Pioneer Day parade held in Salt Lake City in July. (Photograph by Jeffrey D. Allred.)

Employment Center in Mexico Helping Students Achieve

Students in Mexico cannot afford to take lightly the opportunity to attend post-secondary school. Space is limited in public high schools, called “preparatory schools”—la escuela preparatoria or la prepa—and students have to take tough entrance exams to get in, a necessary step if they want to go on to a university later.

But a program available through the Church’s Employment Resource Center in Monterrey, Mexico, is helping Latter-day Saint students pass the exams with a high rate of success. And that is all part of fulfilling the center’s mission, says its director.

“Our primary purposes are to help place people in jobs, to prepare them to get better jobs, or to help them create their own jobs,” says the center’s director, Francisco Gámez. And the center is obviously doing things right. In the first trimester of 2003, it had 2,750 job placements—nearly 128 percent of its established goal.

But job placement addresses only one element of employment challenges in Mexico. “The greatest employment problem for the country is [lack of] education,” says Brother Gámez. Many people struggle to gain the education they need to get a well-paying job or improve their circumstances. So in addition to its regular services, the Monterrey center offers educational help in two significant ways. The first is an exam tutoring program for young students, and the second is a program for adults who did not have similar educational opportunities in their youth.

The center works from the assumption that helping students gain an education early on will head off future employment problems, and tutoring for the preparatoria entrance exams is an effective way to help. One stake has been using the tutoring program for seven years now, and during that time period 97 percent of the students who went through the program passed their preparatoria tests.

For those who did not have full opportunities for education when they were young, the Monterrey center has developed, in cooperation with a government agency—the National Institute for the Education of Adults (Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos)—a program to help adult Mexicans complete the equivalent of a high school education. Three things were required to get it underway: potential students, places to hold the classes, and qualified instructors. The Church meets part of the first need and all of the second. Many students are Church members, who may also refer friends or neighbors to the program, and classes are held in Church meetinghouses. The government meets the third need by certifying qualified instructors recruited by the Church.

As with all of the employment center’s services, no distinction is made between Church members and others when it comes to providing services. The educational program is open to anyone prepared to take advantage of it.

“This program blessed the lives of some 1,200 people during 2002,” Brother Gámez says. Some students, including a few stake presidents who had never had the opportunity to complete secondary school, enrolled with tears of gratitude in their eyes, he says. And the example of these adults seems to have an effect on young members of their families faced with the choice of going on to the preparatoria; many seem to be taking the choice more seriously.

[photo] Patrons of the Church’s Employment Resource Center in Monterrey, Mexico, have access to resources to help them find jobs, prepare for education exams, and learn job-hunting skills. (Photograph by Don L. Searle.)

First Branch Conference Held for Island Saints

Over a quarter of the population of Lae, a small atoll in the Marshall Islands, joined with Latter-day Saints on the island in May 2003 for the first branch conference held in the Lae Branch.

Under a canopy of coconut and pandanus trees, branch members had the opportunity to sustain President Gordon B. Hinckley and other leaders of the Church for the first time since Lae Branch, part of the Kwajalein Micronesia District in the Micronesia Guam Mission, was organized in August 1992.

There are 40 Church members on this tiny atoll, which has a population of 400. The members were so excited about the branch conference they invited their friends and families of other faiths to join them. In all, 110 people attended. Because the small chapel could not hold them all, the meeting was held outdoors.

Elder Robert M. Mills, Second Counselor in the Micronesia Guam Mission presidency, spoke on the importance of the gospel and keeping the commandments. He explained the significance of the temple and receiving the fulness of the gospel.

The small group of leaders that traveled to Lae for the branch conference was also aware that the regular supply boat had not come for more than three months, creating a shortage of food on the island. Church leaders brought bags of rice, chicken, and other food items and delivered them to the branch president for disbursement.

Before the group of leaders left the island, three young men approached Elder Mills and asked how they could join the Church. Elder Mills promised them that he would see what he could do to send missionaries to Lae to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Marshall Islands are made up of two atoll chains in the South Pacific. As of 2002, there were 3,625 members in the Marshall Islands, with 1 in every 19 people being LDS. The Marshall Islands have two districts and 11 branches.

Strengthening the Community

Materials Donated to Juvenile Facility

An extensive repair project at Borstal Institution, a juvenile detention facility in Accra, Ghana, has improved the lives of young inmates. Through the mutual cooperation of Latter-day Saint Charities, which provided the materials and donated medical supplies and equipment, and the Borstal Institution, the inmates were able to build and paint bookshelves, desks, and chairs, and make repairs to a new library building, a woodworking shop, and other facilities.

At a 26 June celebration marking the end of the project, many of the inmates and institution officers expressed gratitude for LDS Charities.

“We are overwhelmed with all these tools and medical supplies, too numerous to imagine. I am grateful to all members of the Church,” said Nai Alhaji, deputy director of prisons.

The project was designed to work hand in hand with the already-established goals of Borstal—to help young offenders be rehabilitated and return to society better able to be useful and self-reliant citizens. Borstal is working with 142 young men to help them plan for a useful future.

Elder Neil Darlington, representing LDS Charities, said during the celebration, “This has been an exciting project. With our limited resources, the funds have gone to the boys to help them help themselves to do as much as they can with their own hands. … These desks and chairs that you [boys] made yourselves is symbolic of the gift. It is the reason we made the donations so you can do something for yourself, to try to improve your lot in life.”

Volunteers Move Supplies to New School

Saving the Oregon City School District tens of thousands of dollars, volunteers from the Oregon City Oregon Stake packed and moved thousands of boxes of books and supplies from the old Oregon City High School to its new building.

The massive move was selected by the stake as its annual community service project, held each summer in one of the suburb communities that comprise the stake.

“Part of our effort each year is to get members of the community to work along with us to build bridges of faith and understanding,” said Linda Conlee, a member of the stake.

Church volunteers arranged for the use of at least a dozen trucks donated by businesses, along with everything from donated forklifts and pallets to 700 lunches for hungry helpers, said Larry Blunck, one of two coordinators for the June service project.

Teachers boxed their classroom supplies and marked each box with yellow tape and black markers. Volunteers helped with the rest. The fleet of trucks, from 20-footers to tractor-trailer rigs, split up between the two campuses the morning of the move.

A crew of volunteer amateur radio operators was stationed in the front offices of each building, with more radio operators roaming the halls putting in requests for supplies or more helpers.

“It was an enormous logistical effort that required more than a year of planning and communication,” said Sister Conlee.

Ken Rezac, business manager for the Oregon City School District, said the district is glad to have had the help. It might have cost as much as $100,000 to hire movers, Mr. Rezac said.

Medical Supplies Donated to Island

Just a few feet from the Colonia Chapel on the island of Yap in Micronesia, missionaries and members were busy unloading a 40-foot container of medical supplies donated by the Church to the Yap Wellness Clinic. The supplies included general medical supplies, critical-care equipment, and clothing to help provide better health care services to the 12,000 people on Yap.

Dr. Ayesha Adelbai, head of the Yap Wellness Clinic, thanked Church members for their help. “We have limited resources in Yap, and [this] is very helpful to us,” she said. “It shows how much the Church cares about people. I can’t believe how freely the Church gives to others.”

Students Donate Teddy Bears to Children

Students from the Latter-day Saint Student Association at Valdosta State University in Georgia recently donated 275 handcrafted teddy bears to local children and children in Iraq as part of a service project they dubbed Operation Teddy Bear.

The service project is ongoing, with approximately 50 people from the Latter-day Saint Student Association and community working on the bears.

One hundred of the donated teddy bears were given to local first-response teams to be distributed to children who have recently suffered traumatic experiences, including car accidents, fires, and tornados. The students are arranging to send the remaining 175 teddy bears to soldiers in Iraq for them to give to children.

The idea for Operation Teddy Bear originated when local LDSSA adviser Elaine Cronin read an article about teddy bears being donated to traumatized children. Instead of purchasing bears to donate, students decided to make them, setting a goal of producing 250 bears by the end of April 2003. The students surpassed their goal by 25 bears.

Students have already begun making bears for next year’s teddy bear drive.

[photo] Members of a stake in Oregon help move supplies from a local high school to its new building. (Photograph courtesy of Linda Conlee.)

Comment

For Parents of “Perfect” Children

“Entrusted with Her Care” in the July 2003 Ensign (page 67) caused me to ponder about “special” children being sent to parents who can handle their challenges. I always wondered if, since all three of our children are free from mental and physical defects, Heavenly Father didn’t trust me and my wife with a challenging child. Then I heard the still, small voice whisper to me: “What about your oldest son, who isn’t attending church right now? I’ve entrusted to your care some of my precious children who need parents who can lead them back to my presence, which might be as big a challenge as coping with Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy.” A powerful message for parents of physically and mentally “perfect” children who are wayward at this point in their lives. Larry Beck Tigard, Oregon

Ennobling Biography

I was extremely pleased to read the article on Emmeline B. Wells in the July 2003 Ensign (page 16). It was the first article I have ever read in this magazine that truly describes the type of well-rounded women we can and should be. It was the most ennobling and elevating biographical story of a woman I have read. I would like to see more articles of this nature, which not only focus on the important role of women as wives and mothers, but also on our ability and obligation to effect changes for good within our communities. Laura Root Boise, Idaho

Help for Family Home Evening

In reading the June 2003 Ensign and enjoying the articles on family home evening, I noticed there was no reference made to the Family Home Evening Resource Book or the Gospel Art Picture Kit as resources in teaching family home evening. Is the Church not encouraging use of these resources anymore? We find them to be invaluable and think they should be at the center of family home evening teaching. Pete Charles Medford, Oregon

Editor’s note: The Family Home Evening Resource Book (item no. 31106) and the Gospel Art Picture Kit (item no. 34730) are excellent resources for families to use in teaching the gospel during family home evening. They are available at distribution centers or online at www.ldscatalog.com.